Photo credit Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), NMFS permit #14603.

BOSTON -- Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) are urging boaters to be on the lookout for endangered North Atlantic right whales, which are congregating and feeding in large numbers in Cape Cod Bay.

Aerial and vessel surveys conducted by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies on April 9 documented approximately 90 right whales throughout Cape Cod Bay. The animals are currently feeding just below the water's surface on high concentrations of zooplankton, making them incredibly difficult to see and putting them at risk for vessel collision. Vessel strike is a major cause of human-induced mortality for right whales. For the safety of both mariners and whales, DFG's Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is urging vessel operators in the Cape Cod Bay area to proceed with extreme caution, reduce speed (less than 10 knots), and post lookouts to avoid colliding with these highly endangered whales.

Vessels are prohibited by state and federal law from approaching within 500 yards of a right whale. Massachusetts Environmental Police and U.S. Coast Guard are authorized to enforce the 500-yard rule. Vessels that find themselves within 500 yards of a right whale should slowly and cautiously exit the area.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered large whales in the world, with a population of approximately 550 animals. Right whales gather annually in the waters off of Cape Cod to feed. Last year, approximately 50 percent of the known population was sighted in Massachusetts waters.

Management of maritime activities near right whales is part of the DMF's Large Whale Conservation Program. The program is a cooperative effort between DMF, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (CCS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service to study and protect large whales, particularly the right whale, in Massachusetts coastal waters.

Please report all sightings of right whales immediately. Call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 866-755-NOAA or hail the Coast Guard on Channel 16. For more information, visit the DMF website at http://www.mass.gov/marinefisheries or contact Erin Burke -- erin.burke@state.ma.us or 978-551-0152 or Dan McKiernan -- dan.mckiernan@state.ma.us or 617-626-1536.